Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve seen Konami and Kojima saturating headlines for weeks. We’ve gone from the publisher removing Kojima’s name from Phantom Pain promo material, to rumors of Silent Hill – another project Kojima was invested in – being canceled. In the last week or so, the internet has discovered some striking similarities between Italian Doctor Sergio Canavero – who has, himself, made waves in the news with plans to perform a head transplant – and a doctor we’ve seen in early Phantom Pain footage. Everyone wanted to know: What’s fiction, and what’s reality? Well, thanks to journalist Gabriel Galliani (Official Playstation Magazine of Italy, and Byte-Size Impressions Editing Advisor and Podcast Co-Host), we finally have an answer.
People weren’t sure if the similarities were mere coincidence, or the best marketing ploy by Kojima to date. In a statement to goodgame.hr, Doctor Canavero stated, “No link, thanks for the heads up, I will notify my attorney.” The knee-jerk response from the gaming community has been, “Isn’t that precisely what he would say if he was in on it?” Well, maybe… but journalists have to run off facts, not assumptions. So, Gabriel Galliani decided he wasn’t satisfied with that response and did some old-fashioned sleuthing. And we’re talking the whole nine, here. He called anyone and everyone and obtained official documentation.
In the end, he got answers straight from the horse’s mouth: Not only had Doctor Canavero contacted his attorney, but he’s also filed charges with local authorities. He was also able to confirm that Canavero is looking to sue Konami for using his likeness, although the doc’s attorney needs to do a lot of legwork to see how plausible their case would actually be.
Hear that toilet flushing? That’s the sound of a ‘wink-wink, nod-nod’ marketing conspiracy going down the drain… maybe. But hey, at least we can finally speculate as to what might have happened between Kojima and Konami.
I know a bunch of skeptics still want to believe Kojima is trolling, and because things still don’t make much sense, they could be right. But, on the surface, it appears that Kojima was SO fascinated by his research on phantom pain, that he couldn’t help but interject Canavero, and his work, into Phantom Pain. His likeness was used BLATANTLY, and not just his look. No, we’re talking mannerisms, accent, the whole shebang. Maybe he wanted to use this specific doctor to push a message? After all, in 2010, Kojima told us:
“The next project will challenge a certain type of taboo, if I mess up, I’ll probably have to leave the industry. However, I don’t want to pass by avoiding that. I turn 47 this year. It’s been 24 years since I started making games. Today I got an ally who would happily support me in that risk. Although it’s just one person. For a start, it’s good.”
So, despite knowing he was going to enter dangerous territory, he’d rather stand up for his beliefs than avoid controversy, no matter how damning it might be. He calculated the risk, and took the plunge anyway.
But who was the ally he spoke of? That seems like a key piece of evidence, doesn’t it? For all we know, that person could have been the neurosurgeon in question, but that makes the prospect of a lawsuit seem kind of… awkward.
Another strike against the ‘marketing ploy’ idea is that while most people believe Canavero only ‘appeared’ in 2013 (mere months after Phantom Pain’s reveal), that’s simply not true. He has writing that’s been published prior to that. Also, in 2008, various Italian news outlets reported the neurosurgeon had successfully pulled a girl out of a coma. According to the news source linked, “she was able to swallow food and obey simple commands.” Wouldn’t this all have predated anything Kojima would have done for Phantom Pain? At least in terms of stealth marketing preparation?
So that’s why I believe this might be a case of Kojima having art imitate life, and to a dangerous degree at that. In early MGSV footage, for example, we see Big Boss awaken from a coma. One of the first faces he sees is that of Doctor Canavero.
“But they didn’t use Canavero’s likeness. They used an actor.” True enough, but does that make the connections and similarities any less real?
Also, remember Quiet? Of course you do. The scantily clad female character had everyone screaming ‘sexist portrayal of women!’ from the rooftops. But the interesting thing to note is that, like the patient in the story mentioned above… she can’t talk. What if she’s another in-game representation of Doctor Canavero’s work? What if she went under the knife, had her brain tinkered with, and has to obey commands from evil men (including dressing like a fishnet hooker)? Kojima is on record defending Quiet’s attire:
“I know there’s people concerning about “Quiet” but don’t worry. I created her character as an antithesis to the women characters appeared in the past fighting game who are excessively exposed. “Quiet” who doesn’t have a word will be teased in the story as well. But once you recognize the secret reason for her exposure, you will feel ashamed of your words and deeds.”
Anyway, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure all of this spells trouble… and what troubles me, is that nobody seems to be questioning any of this. Instead, everyone’s content with laying the blame at Konami’s feet. They’ve been labeled the bad guy, and people are marching on their castle with torches and pitchforks… but, why? All we really have at the moment is speculation. Has nobody entertained the idea that maybe, just MAYBE… Konami is innocent? I know there’s a ‘publishers are bad’ mentality at play, but come on…
Put yourself in their shoes:
Let’s say YOU had Kojima and his talented team working for you. You owned the MGS franchise, but Kojima had complete creative control. Then, really late in the development process – in which a considerable amount of time and resources had already been spent – you find out Kojima was playing with fire, leaving YOU to (likely) get burned because your company name is all over the product. So, perhaps a dialogue opens at this point. You say, “Hey, Kojima, you can’t do this. There might be legal repercussions, and the themes you’re tackling are going to attract all the wrong kind of attention.” Maybe Kojima says, “Tough noogies, brah, but this is what I want to do. I’m not running from controversial ideas just because a ‘suit’ tells me to.” So, in order to protect yourself, you distance yourself from Kojima as much as possible. This includes ripping Kojima’s name off the product, ‘firing’ him after development on Phantom Pain concludes, and canceling whatever other projects Kojima had in the pipeline.
I’m not saying that’s what happened… but it’s a plausible theory, don’t you think? I mean, what the hell was Kojima thinking? Using ideas and theories is one thing, but to essentially replicate a real person with a controversial career in your game without their consent? Another thing entirely. Such a thing could jeopardize that person’s image, and that’s precisely what’s happening with Canavero. He’s been labeled a real life Frankenstein. He could have ignored the criticisms now, sure… but what happens if his planned head transplant procedure fails? He’ll likely be branded a monster and a hack, and who knows, he might have to step away from his career in total. And who would he set his sights on for compensation? Konami, of course.
Again, I don’t want to say Konami is innocent… just that it’s possible. Regardless of the type of relationship they might have had with Kojima, with the theory put forth above, the publisher would have little choice but to put their best foot forward. Distancing themselves from Kojima would have been the only way to do that, at least for the time being (that is, without straight-up canceling MGSV). Maybe this is why there’s so much confusion on whether Kojima was actually fired. Maybe he wasn’t… maybe he was ‘let go’. Maybe Kojima WANTED to go, and Konami let him. Who knows?
And those are the key words: Who knows? Nobody right now, really, except for those directly involved. So, put down your pitch forks and stop threatening to boycott the company in the future. We have no idea what happened.
But, I will say this: There’s still a slight chance this was a marketing ploy, and we’re all the fools for buying into it. Or, maybe Canavero is helping Kojima retaliate against Konami. Maybe Kojima planned the whole thing to help fund Canavero’s research. All I know for sure is that regardless of what the answer is, it can’t be good. I mean, at best, what do we have? Kojima is leaving Konami, one way or the other… and if this DOES happen to be some sort of ploy, well, reporting a false incident to the Italian police is illegal.
Let’s just wait and see… Because nobody has enough information to take sides.
As for Gabe: Despite all the evidence pointing towards Canavero and Kojima not being in cahoots with one another, a healthy dose of skepticism remains with him, as there’s some minor inconsistencies he’s not ready to talk or write about just yet.